A View from the Air: Carbon Sequestration, Midwestern Farms and Biodiversity

One afternoon in early March I flew from Boston to Chicago, returning home from an Ecological Landscape Alliance conference. Cloud cover, white and lumpy as a rumpled hotel duvet, obscured the view, until over western Pennsylvania the plane crossed the edge of the weather system. Our country’s heartland unfurled below. The gently rolling terrain flattened as the plane headed west, divided by roads delineating a grid, with fields, towns, and even woodlots squared into the design.

This tidy, Grant Woods-esque arrangement is the relic of late 18th century surveying expeditions sent out to divide the Northwest Territory into 6-mile square townships, the better to sell off, settle and tame the nearly, at the time, unfathomable expanse. As they worked, the surveyors made detailed maps, including of vegetation; they used boulders, piles of rock or even notable trees as corner markers and confirmed corner placement with nearby “witness trees.” Today, restorationists use these maps to help f…

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